April 27–29, 2006

University of Nevada, Reno
 Reno, Nevada


Thomas Abraham


Robin Cohen


Conference Presenters and Topics:

Thomas Abraham
“People of Indian Origin as Global Citizens”

People of Indian origin (PIO) constitute a global community of over 22 million people. It is bigger than many countries of Europe. It has been estimated that PIOs living outside India have a combined yearly economic output of about $200 billion, about one third of the GDP of India. Whether they come from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, the Caribbean or Europe, they are Indians in body and spirit. Almost all of them maintain their Indian cultural traditions and values. They seem to have meaningfully integrated in their countries without losing their ethnic identity.

The presentation looks at the Indian Diaspora in different countries, its compositions, organized mobilization efforts through organizations such as Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), how they are helping India and the countries they come from, their role in providing help at time of crisis to their communities around the world, campaigning on PIOs’ human rights violations as well as civil and political rights, political campaigns in the countries with large populations, pooling professional and financial resources for common goals, and the Indian diaspora’s role in development, global peace, and justice.

Kim Butler
“The African Meta-Diaspora and Multi-Layered Politics:
Negotiating Diaspora Strategies in the Digital Age”

Narratives of diaspora once focused on oppression and displacement; today they focus on diaspora as a potential strategy of empowerment. The ability to harness that potential varies greatly from one diaspora to the next, and these differences are evident between different branches of single diasporas as well. Using the case of the African diaspora as an example, this paper explores the usage of diaspora as a political strategy in multiple contexts. A multi-layered diaspora, the African example illuminates the vast difference in political options for recent emigrants from nation-states versus the slave-era dispersals from a generic continental homeland. To what extent is it possible to coordinate multiple types of strategies towards a collective transnational political agenda? Do these disparities in political realities mitigate against a shared diaspora consciousness, especially when the type of diasporization is markedly different?

The paper argues that many modern diasporas are composites of diasporas formed in different eras that necessarily interact and cross-pollinate each other. The African diaspora is a meta diaspora that consists of many constituent diasporas (i.e., Ghanaian, Garifuna, Indian Ocean, Caribbean). Just as individuals hold multiple layers of identity, so also do diasporas exist at the meta and micro levels simultaneously. This suggests that the overall landscape of diaspora politics is an interaction between differently bounded diaspora communities.

This paper examines instances of diaspora mobilization in a variety of contexts within the African diaspora. It suggests that today’s political and technological climate favors different types of diaspora politics (and forms of identity consciousness) than those prevalent in the past. It closes by considering how the salience of discrete diasporas’ politics will affect the possibilities for pan-diaspora politics in the future.

Dr. Nergis Canefe
“Religion in the ‘New World’: Critical Issues of Belonging and Acceptance among Muslim Migrant Communities in Canada”

Liberal democratic citizenship has become the commonplace motto in every Western political system in the twenty-first century. Among other things, it is meant to symbolize respect for difference, institutionalized tolerance for disagreement, and, legal protection of freedoms of expression and choice. Canada constitutes no exception in terms of the formal embrace of this rendition of citizenship. In effect, many believe that compared to its southern neighbor with its current conservative and xenophobic presidential regime, or, equally xenophobic and anti-immigration reflexes of European governments, Canada is apt to become the home-guard for such a conception. Meanwhile, from within Canada, the picture looks somewhat different. More and more Canadians who either recently acquired citizenship or assumed landed immigrant status are finding themselves at a crossroads: they may have skills to offer, they may have a significant range of legal membership rights, and yet they seem to be not on an even keel with others who have become ‘Canadians’ before they did, or, who belong to the Northern European and/or Francophone backbone of traditional Canadian society. This paper argues that indeed there are enough indicators to suggest that there exists a threshold that separates those who can in principle have it all and those who are kept back—via delay, caution and interrogation—from full and acknowledged participation in Canadian social, political and economic life. Furthermore, contrary to the Marxist adage that long dominated discussions on ‘structural exclusion,’ what troubles the new immigrant does not appear to be strictly a class issue. Private businesses, the surviving parts of the legendary activist Canadian state, pressure groups, many organs of the Canadian civil society, and, even the Canadian intellectual and political elite all prove to be partners in this crime of omission that somewhat defies definition. The prominent members of the society are often all too keen to act as if in the post-Charter Canadian universe, all is now in order. Accordingly, if there remains unequal access or differential utilization of our clearly spelled-out rights, it must be just a lag in the political culture of the larger society in terms of catching up with our state-of-art legal-institutional framework. In short, legal liberalism—hand in hand with the entrenched belief in the possibility of the realization of liberal democratic citizenship—runs deep and strong in the Canadian psyche as the ‘be all and end all’ solution to racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and any other, new forms of exclusion in the offing.

This paper presents the case that what is grossly overlooked in this grand scheme of institutional reform and political optimism is that changes to what is often cited as the ‘citizenship contract’ in any given society have always been made within the context of existing norms of socio-political membership. In other words, they take place with direct reference to already-determined criteria for qualifications regarding full membership, the legal process of naturalization being the tip of the iceberg. Thus, one can argue that there is a starting line in each society-cum-political community regarding the minimums of acceptance for full participation with protected rights, and by default, regarding the agreed upon principles of exclusion. It is those baselines that are the hardest to change, or even to question. Such changes have been observed, for instance, in cases whereby the ethnically based and/or monist understanding of citizenship were undone to accommodate multi-ethnic, multi-religious, or multi-racial dimensions. However, more often than not, integration or assimilation—depending on the steepness of the citizenship regime’s expectations for the ordinance of full and formal membership—forces immigrants into conforming to ‘national stereotypes’ developed to depict the core characteristics of ‘those who are one of us.’

This paper is dedicated to the discussion of a group of cases whereby the effects of such lingering of the past are most pronounced. These indicate that at this latest stage of the history of ‘Canadian society,’ religion—especially when combined with ethnicity, race and class—constitutes a key component of the aforementioned silent barrier that separates those who categorically qualify for becoming a ‘true Canadian’ and those who, at best, can approximate Canadianness. In the end, it is fair to suggest that all the rhetoric of liberal democratic citizenship does not suffice to carry the weight of religious difference: the ‘veil of ignorance’ that was to bring us the promised land of equality in difference cannot be fully donned due to fear, prejudice, and mistrust.

Dr. Robin Cohen
“Creolization and Diaspora: The Cultural Politics of Divergence and Perhaps Convergence”

At first sight, creolization and diaspora are divergent forms of cultural politics, with different sensibilities and different trajectories. As discussions of creolization may be less familiar to members of a conference centred on diaspora, I concentrate on an exposition and provide some comparative and historical examples of Creoles and creolization. The core of the concept centres on the cross-fertilization that takes place between different cultures when they interact. When creolizing, participants select particular elements from incoming or inherited cultures, endow these with meanings different from those they possessed in the original culture and then creatively merge these to create totally new varieties that supersede the prior forms. Creolization is a ‘here and now’ sensibility that erodes the old roots and stresses the new growth in a new place of identification. A diasporic consciousness, by contrast, reflects a degree of unease with the here and now and the current location. ‘Home’ or homeland is reconstructed and revalorized through fabulation, historical memory and social organization. It provides a continuing pole of attraction and identification. By contrasting these two forms of cultural politics, I hope to illuminate both. Perhaps unexpectedly there are also some possibilities and examples of convergence which I explore briefly before concluding the paper.

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